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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS BOW
By Thomas Wheeler

The toy world, generally speaking, is a very categorized place. There are distinct realms of different types of toys, and it is not often that one type of toy crosses into another, largely due to the fact that a given toy is designed for a very specific audience. You have action figures, die-cast cars, fashion dolls, baby dolls, building toys like Lego, and so forth.

It's generally considered that action figures are for boys. This is one of the reasons why the number of female action figures out there is relatively minimal. Unless there's a very decisive reason to put a female into an action figure line, it doesn't happen that often. There are exceptions, of course, which more often than not are mandated out of the necessity of the concept on which the action figure line is based. You're not going to do a Star Wars line without Princess Leia. You can't get a complete Power Rangers team without making the female Rangers -- generally one of the few times the color pink enters the action figure aisle. If you're going to do the Fantastic Four, sooner or later you have to make the Invisible Woman.

And sometimes, a female character that is created specifically for a toy line manages to become popular enough of her own accord. The G.I. Joe line is probably the best example here, with characters like Scarlett, Baroness, Lady Jaye, and Zarana. But even so, the general rule is, action figures are for boys, and as such, are predominantly male characters, since conventional wisdom says boys aren't interested in having female action figures, which would probably be interpreted as "dolls", in their collection.

This rule has opened up a little bit in recent years. Mattel's DC Universe Classics line has produced a fair number of female figures, but this line of fine toys is increasingly seen as a collectors' line, and so can get away with it more readily.

At the same time, the rules of the toy world say that female dolls are first, foremost, and almost exclusively for girls. The ruler of this particular roost is still Barbie. And while Barbie has had her boyfriends over the years, no one's terribly likely to accuse Ken of qualifying as an action figure. Even when Barbie has taken on the identities of certain superheroes in a number of special editions, such as Supergirl, Wonder Woman, or Batgirl, we haven't seen Ken trying to dress up as the Dark Knight or the Man of Steel -- which is probably just as well. If Ken tried to stick his nose in the action figure world, he'd probably get his trendy-dressed butt whipped by anyone from Iron Man to Mace Windu, and go whining back to Barbie's Malibu Dream House.

So generally speaking, the worlds of action figures and girls' dolls don't tend to meet. Of all the different genres of toys out there, these are probably the two most disparate. The attempted exceptions to bring some aspect of one into the other have usually met with quick failure, and there haven't been very many of those anyway.

With one notable, reasonably successful exception.

At the height of the popularity of Mattel's MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE line in the mid-1980's, Mattel took a dramatic step. They had reason to believe that girls were almost as interested as playing with Masters figures as boys were. What led them to this conclusion, I have no real idea. I look at the Masters characters, and with the exceptions of Teela and Evil-Lyn, I don't really see much here that would appeal to girls. Maybe somehow some of the goofier or more colorful characters worked for them in some way. I really don't know.

Regardless, Mattel made the astounding decision to create a girls' action figure line. Never mind the fact that "girls' action figure line" sounded line a contradiction in terms. Mattel was convinced that it could work, if it was done properly. And they really saw to it that it was. Called "Princess of Power", the line was effectively a female-centric version of Masters of the Universe, with the star player being She-Ra, who it turned out was He-Man's sister.

The compatibility of the two toy lines is debatable. He-Man was a muscle-bound action figure. She-Ra and her friends (and enemies) were, for the most part, small-scale fashion dolls who happened to have certain action-oriented features and weapons, and a backstory that tied them into the Masters line.

However, it was that very tight connection in the primary media outlet for both He-Man and She-Ra that allowed this one female-based action figure line to succeed where none had done so before or really, since. Because in the Filmation animation, He-Man and She-Ra were more closely tied than would ever have been workable in the toy lines alone.

She-Ra was first introduced in an animated theatrical movie, which also featured He-Man and his friends. In the story, He-Man traveled to the world of Etheria, on orders from the Sorceress, to find a hero that would liberate that world from Hordak, who had conquered it. Accompanying He-Man was a special sword, similar to his own, that was to be given to that hero.

That hero turned out to be He-Man's sister, Adora, who became She-Ra. She traveled briefly to Eternia to meet her long-lost parents, and Hordak briefly teamed with Skeletor, who was a one-time ally whom he had betrayed, in a failed attempt to destroy both He-Man and She-Ra. She-Ra returned to Etheria to continue the fight against Hordak, and was spun off into her own animated series.

The factors enabling She-Ra to succeed were both clever and remarkable. For starters, Hordak and his Evil Horde were not figures in the Princess of Power line. They were Masters of the Universe figures. One has to assume that on the one hand, Filmation figured that He-Man had enough to contend with dealing with Skeletor on a regular basis. He didn't need an entirely new enemy. Secondly, the Princess of Power toy line's villains were all females, and none of them seemed all that nasty. A fair number of them were worked into the animated series, as part of Hordak's Evil Horde, but on their own, I tend to think it's debatable that they would've amounted to much. So right there, with Hordak being a constant presence in the She-Ra animated series, you've got a perpetual crossover -- and cross-marketing.

Secondly, the She-Ra series managed a very different take on its setting than He-Man had. Doubtless it would've been easy to set up a similar situation where Hordak was a constant nuisance to She-Ra and her allies, trying to take over Etheria, just as Skeletor was always trying to conquer Eternia through his evil plans. But that's not what happened. Hordak had already conquered Etheria -- not bad for a guy whose voice sounded like he had a constant sinus problem -- which not only set him up as a lot nastier than Skeletor, but essentially reversed the roles, placing the good guys in the position of having to mount a rebellion against Hordak's tyrannical rule of the planet! It wasn't often that one encountered an animated series where the bad guys were in charge, let alone a series based on a girls' toy line, but here it was!

Thirdly, Filmation made sure that He-Man and his friends showed up on a fairly regular basis. There was a Christmas special where He-Man and She-Ra, as well as Skeletor and Hordak, actually traveled to Earth for the first time ever. He-Man was a fairly frequent guest-star in the She-Ra series. And his own series ended production, while the Princess of Power animated series continued. This meant that longtime fans of He-Man practically had to tune into the She-Ra series to see some newer adventures of their hero.

From a marketing standpoint, it was pure genius. And it also allowed the Princess of Power toy line to enjoy a fairly healthy run for several years. I'm not saying that many of its collectors were boys, but I wouldn't exclude the possibility of it. Certainly the considerable connection between the two concepts has given She-Ra and her fellow toy line characters a level of respect in the action figure collecting community that is otherwise unheard of for a girls'-based concept.

When the 2002 Masters of the Universe toy line came along, a lot of fans wanted to see a She-Ra action figure. And ultimately, it happened -- complete with fabric cape and rooted hair, no less! And of course, when the Masters of the Universe Classics line started up, one of the earliest questions out of the gate on the part of collectors was, "Will She-Ra be included?" And eventually she was, and we even got the first-ever figure of her "civilian" identity, Adora.

But there are other characters. And while female characters in male-oriented action figure lines are a relative rarity, the reverse is just as true. The number of males in any given girls' doll line is going to be pretty minimal. Barbie needs a boyfriend, but there's going to be a lot more Barbies out there than Kens. And in the Princess of Power line, there was exactly ONE male figure -- not counting a couple of oddball non-human critters. His name was BOW, and he was more or less marketed as "She-Ra's special friend".

And he's finally made his way into the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS line.

Now, the original Bow figure, arguably more than any of the female figures in the entire She-Ra line, offered proof of the fact that the original Princess of Power line really was directed towards girls -- with the possible exception of "Shower Power" Catra. I mean -- seriously!? The things you find when you do research... Unlike the Masters figures, the original Bow figure was not at all musclebound. Oh, the figure had a decent enough physique. I'm sure he could've taken Ken in a fair fight. But Hordak would've slapped him around and tossed him out of his stronghold in less time than it takes to tell.

In the animated adventures, however, Bow appeared to be just as powerfully built as any of the inhabitants of Eternia. He needed to be, with the Horde hanging around. In fact, Bow was the first individual Prince Adam really encountered when he came to Etheria, and their physiques were nearly identical. Part of this was due to the fact that, for many of their series, Filmation used a technique called rotoscoping. This involved filming live actors performing various basic moves, and then basing the animation on it. And while I'm sure that few actors were as bulked up as most of the Masters, I also suspect that by the time Filmation got around to the Princess of Power series, they had a good supply of basic templates to work with, and just drew the necessary character details around them.

There's also the fact that I'm sure that Filmation had in mind to present any number of crossover adventures beyond the introductory movie, and they didn't want Bow to look like a wimp. So somewhere between toy and cartoon, Bow spent some time at the gym or whatever. He also grew a mustache, which was an improvement. Taking cues from Man-At-Arms, apparently.

Bow is briefly described in some online research from the Princess of Power series as one of the original Rebels. He often has to disguise his face when leaving the Whispering Woods (headquarters of the Rebellion), to prevent the Horde from identifying him. Bow, like Glimmer, is a rather impetuous member of the Rebellion. He is often too eager to rush into battle against the Horde, which more often than not gets him into trouble. He appears to have known Rebellion member Kowl (a strange, cartoonish, owl-like creature who was arguably the series' version of Orko) for quite a long time. Kowl has often voiced his dislike of Bow's musical abilities, but Adora seems to enjoy his songs. Bow has also shown some ability as an illusionist. At different times he has made birds appear out of nowhere, and made himself disappear.

Bow is only the second She-Ra based character to make it into the Masters of the Universe Classics line, although the most prominent villainess, Catra, has already been announced. I hope it's a trend, since there are some interesting characters in the line, but if they do Perfuma, I hope I have plenty of warning. I'm no fan of scented toys.

So, how's the figure? Really extremely impressive, and need it be said -- he's based a lot more on his animated incarnation than on the original toy. And he's just as powerfully-built as any of the Masters figures, because to a significant degree, he uses the same molds, as one would expect.

First off, there's the headsculpt. Technically, Bow comes with two heads, which can be changed out. One has a mustache, as he appeared on the animated series, and the other is clean-shaven, reflecting -- somewhat -- the original toy. However, the heroic, determined, and almost grim expression on the face is far removed from the original Bow figure, as is the level of detail, courtesy of the masterful sculpting and design team of the Four Horsemen.

The mustached head is such a dead ringer for the animated version of the character that it's downright scary. The Horsemen seem to be highly adept at this sort of thing, as they managed it just as effectively when they did the Adora figure, as well as She-Ra. The clean-shaven head is just as effective-looking, and I'm honestly not certain at this point which one I prefer.

In both instances, Bow has fairly short, brown hair, neatly trimmed and parted down the middle (whataya want, it was the 80's...). The clean-shaven Bow head also has a small, gold headband that appears on the forehead, which reflects the original toy somewhat, although this Bow's is far more ornate than the original's.

"Ornate" seems to be the name of the game when it comes to Bow, which isn't surprising, given the nature of the toy line that he comes from. I think that it would be fair to say that Etheria was probably a more, for lack of a better term, artistic world than Eternia, and this was not completely driven out when Hordak showed up, no doubt despite his best efforts. Bow is wearing a combination chestpiece and cape, which fits rather loosely, that is clearly derived from the animated series, but also given additional detail that would have been impossible in a cartoon. The chestplate is mostly gold and copper, and has what looks like a sun symbol as the core of its design. In and of itself, it is not overly ornate, but the shoulder pieces that lead to the cape are another matter. This section is gold, with white and red inlays, and the red inlays have very fancy, elegant sculpting in them.

This ornate look is also reflected in Bow's accessories. There is a quiver attached to his cape, that is unfortunately not removable. The quiver itself is extremely ornate, with a sculpted gold image of a horse's head, tapering into sweeping gold curves that come out of the horse's mane, and a gold wing on the other side of the quiver.

Bow's other accessories include, not surprisingly, a bow, an arrow (apart from the non-removable ones in his quiver), and a harp. The bow and harp continue the horse-head motif, and the elegant and ornate sweeping lines of the overall design. They're all very fancy, and would probably get Bow laughed right out of the Eternian Men's Club, but on Etheria, the designs work.

Somewhat curiously, the bow does not have a bowstring, even though the bow is clearly designed to have one. I don't know if this was a glitch on the figure that I received, or if it was just something that was dropped from all of them. The bow is not especially flexible, and I doubt it would be functional. For those wanting a complete-looking bow, anyway, it's nothing that some decent elastic thread can't remedy.

Bow has a red cape, that is somewhat more "fanned out" than most of the capes we've encountered in the Masters of the Universe Classics line, as well as shorter. It also seems to be a somewhat brighter red. I find myself thinking that Bow's color palette was turned up just a few notches for the sake of a certain authenticity to the original concept.

Bow is shirtless, except for the chest piece, and for the most part, the usual body molds were used for him -- except for the lower arms and hands. Bow has very distinctive lower arms, with very fancy gold wristbands, and he also has distinctive hands, that are not only posed to allow him to ply his archery trade, but have a little extra articulation in them for the same purpose. Usually extra points of articulation would concern me. I don't want to see this line do what some of the DC Universe Classics figures are doing, with double-jointed elbows and knees. It's not necessary there, and it's not necessary here. But the wrist articulation is understated, so it's not a big deal. And heck, they did the same thing for Green Arrow in DC Universe Classics. I'm not complaining in this instance.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Bow's overall appearance is that he doesn't have the furry loincloth that so many Masters figures are known for. He's wearing tight-fitting blue trousers. This is in keeping with the design of the figure, and I think, some further indication that Etheria is arguably a less medieval place than Eternia. Bow is also wearing a fairly fancy black belt with a blue, gold, and red buckle.

While I believe that the upper legs are standard molds, the boots certainly aren't. Bow has very fancy gold boots with copper trim, fanned out in front with elegant detailed sculpting. Nothing like these boots has been seen among Eternian footwear. They're entirely new.

The end result? An impressive figure, that certainly has the build, physique, detail, and articulation of the modern Masters of the Universe Classics line, certainly that of an action figure line that is based on a distinctly boys' toys line, that has nevertheless not lost all of his origins of initially being part of a girls' line. I'm not saying that Bow looks weak or wimpy, but there are some aspects to his design that are a little fancier than one would tend to expect from a boys' line. That the figure gets away with it as well as he does is certainly a testament to the designers.

There's one other accessory of sorts that I should mention. In the animated series, Bow's chestplate had a little red heart in the center of it. Bow's chestplate, as packaged, has a red circle. However, there's a little piece among the accessories that allows you to switch the circle out for a heart. Personally, I don't plan to. It's accurate to the show, but I also think it's pushing it just a little bit visually. Don't get me started on the fact that Bow was first made available on the day after Valentine's Day. I'd like to think that's a coincidence, but I'm not entirely sure.

Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. Bow is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles. It's worth mentioning here that the original Princess of Power line was no better articulated than it's male cousin back in the 80's -- head, arms, legs, and that was about it.

Any complaints? No, not really -- just two small criticisms. The mustached head has a slight paint glitch near one of the eyes, a little bit of flesh tone creeping into one eye that has the unfortunate result of making one eye look slightly smaller than the other. This is something that can and should be looked into in quality control. The other is that Bow's cape makes him a bit back-heavy. He doesn't stand up straight all that well. His ankles are also exceptionally tight. There's a slightly new design being used in the ankles of these figure, that started with Vikor. It eliminates the visible ankle peg, and I think tightens the ankles somewhat -- something that frankly these figures needed. But we might have a slight case of overkill here. Still, Bow can be made to stand, so I'm not going to criticize this too much.

Bow's package does bear the Princess of Power logo on it, as well as the Masters of the Universe logo. Somewhat to my surprise, Bow's name does have a "TM" after it. I wouldn't have thought that was a name that could readily be trademarked. Of course, Bow has a character profile on the back of his package, which reads as follows:

BOW - Special Friend who helps She-Ra
Real Name: Kyle Reccula

After wandering through Despondos for several centuries and unable to return to Eternia, Hordak and his ageless army eventually claimed Etheria as a new throne world, deposing the local monarchs and ruling the people through fear. A nobleman in Queen Angella's court, Kyle was one of many brave warriors who took up arms against the Horde invaders and joined the Great Rebellion. Nicknamed "Bow", due to his natural ability as an archer, each of his arrows possesses different powers, and he has a magical heart that beats frantically when She-Ra is in danger. Bow is secretly in love with Princess Adora, unaware that she and She-Ra are one and the same!

I'm not sure where that name "Kyle Reccula" comes from. "Kyle" is a normal-enough sounding name, but "Reccula" sounds a tad peculiar to my ears (my apologies out there to anyone with the last name of Reccula). The rest of it certainly reads well, and is in keeping with the events of the animated series.

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. I never collected the original Princess of Power toy line, but I was certainly aware of the characters through their animated incarnations. I am pleased that they are finally being welcomed into the Masters' world, and I look forward to seeing more members beyond Adora, She-Ra, Bow, and the forthcoming Catra. We'll see how that works out.

In the meantime, I'm glad that the lone male from the Princess of Power line has finally been given the opportunity to move up and join the big boys. Bow is an excellent figure, and certainly a worthy addition to any Masters of the Universe Classics collection!

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of BOW most definitely has my highest recommendation!